El Jaish’s Megannem Heykel (third from right) prepares to shoot for a goal against Kuwaiti club Al Qurain during their Asian Handball Clubs’ League Championship semi-final at Ali Bin Hamad Al-Attiya Sports Hall yesterday. Heykel scored eight goals. PICTURE: Shemeer Rasheed
By Yash Mudgal/Doha
Fans at the newly-built Ali Bin Hamad Al-Attiya Sports Hall will watch two of their homegrown clubs battle it out for the title tomorrow, after Qatar’s El Jaish and Lekhwiya reached the 17th Asian Handball Clubs’ League Championship final.
Lekhwiya was the first to book a berth in the final as they defeated Al Kuwait Club of Kuwait 33-30 in a keenly fought semifinal yesterday. Lekwhiya had stand-out performances across the court but it was a result largely built on the craft of goalkeeper Branimir Boucek, who stopped almost everything that the opposition threw at him, including a crucial penalty from the Kuwait team’s highest scorer Mohamed al-Gharaballi in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Boucek was delighted after the thrilling victory and his team’s first entry into an international final. “The whole team were the heroes today. The match was so close. Just before the end, it was difficult to predict who would be the winner.
“We all played like one unit and I’m relieved that we have been able to reach the first final of any international championship.
“We expected a difficult match as the Kuwait team was quite strong. Match after match we played with full energy and tried to do our best. Let us see what happens in the final,” the goalkeeper said.
The early initiative belonged to Al Kuwait but, supported by the boisterous support in the stands, the local team came back strongly. Playmaker Frantisek Sulc impressed with his dynamic gameplay and scored six important goals.
The Kuwaiti team tried various defence formations in trying to restrict the Qatari team but Lekhwiya, powered by an energetic Sulc, sealed the 33-30 victory in the closing minutes.
“It is a great feeling to be in the final. We were aware that it will be a tough semifinal. We played according to our plan and succeeded. It’s our first international final and I hope we will have a good final,” Lekhwiya’s left back Johan Boisedu said.
Talking about his team’s performance so far, he said, “We played as unit and I think we deserve to be in the final. We only have to win one more game. Everything is possible.”
Lekhwiya’s line player Mario Tomic also echoed Boisedu’s views as he said: “It was a very tough game and they really gave us a hard time but we showed strength and effectiveness. We deserved to win. We have a precious rest day ahead of us. We all feel exhausted after so many matches in such a short period. But we will give everything that has been left in tank to win the trophy.”
After Lekhwiya’s triumph it was the turn of defending champions El Jaish to enter the final with a 38-29 win over Al Qurain Sporting Club from Kuwait in the second semifinal.
Jaish played with clockwork effectiveness, perfectly balancing attack and defence.
Qurain surprised the hosts in the opening minutes when they went up 3-0, but Jaish reigned them back. In the 12th minute Qurain’s Nawaf al-Shammari was sent off for a violent foul on Jaish’s Allaedine Berrached, an incident which proved to be decisive for the final outcome, as the Kuwaitis lost the momentum. Six minutes later, right winger Nidhal Aissa scored to make it 10-7 for Jaish. Then goalie Mirnes Grco, who came in to replace the suspended Nandor Fazekas, saved a close shot by Messaoud Berkous and Heykel Megannem scored right afterwards to increase the Jaish lead to 11-7. This difference proved to be too much for the Qurain players.
“We played a good game against a strong team, and in spite of what the final score indicates, that was not an easy game. After we played so strong in the semifinal, we are confident for the final,” Jaish’s Ahmed El-Ahmar said.
Qatar’s third club in the championship, Gharafa, played their placement round match against Al Khalij Club with a limited number of first choice players but still managed to win 35-32 and earned the right to play for fifth place against Manyazium.
Gharafa’s dangerous man, left back Ahmed Abdelhak scored five of his seven goals in the first half to keep his team on the right course. This came in a period when Khalij looked dangerous and even took the lead twice (14-13 and 17-16).
In the second-half tiredness affected both teams. Gharafa held the lead but there was a period of play when it seemed that they would lose another game they were constantly in charge. This was when 20 minutes from time and still 27-24 up, their giant Egyptian pivot Hany Elfakharany was shown the red card. Gharafa players though kept their composure and assisted by Khalij’s nervous play and several mistakes, they successfully defended their lead until the end of the game.
Earlier in the day Al Salt Club put on a convincing performance in their last league appearance to finish ninth in the final ranking. The Jordanian champions defeated Ahli Sadab 39-25 pushing the Omani club down to bottom place and without a single win in the whole tournament.
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